By Wade Addison -
Ranked 20th on Princeton Review's list of the top "LGBT-unfriendly" campuses, it may be difficult to believe that Pepperdine would attract any gay students, faculty or staff. However, there are quite a few gay waves in our midst.
Just like our straight peers, we chose to come to Pepperdine for various reasons, including the faith-based community, academic prestige, awe-inspiring location and highly reputed international programs. Many of us did not come to terms with our orientation until long after we arrived, while some came to Pepperdine with the initial goal of not hiding this aspect of themselves. Regardless of where someone is in the process of understanding their sexual identity, it is safe to say that Pepperdine's LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) members come to Pepperdine because of its overall quality and purpose. We desire to serve and lead as much as anyone else and also desire to be loved as brothers and sisters. And while the state of the gay at Pepperdine could be much worse, improvements could still be made.
Lately, progress has been made in respect to the relationship between Pepperdine and its LGBT members. Asked by Mark Davis, dean of Student Affairs, to be one of seven students to speak at a Building Bridges roundtable in February, I was able to see this gradual progress that will hopefully result in positive change. This meeting, a series of many to address the issue, was attended by administrators who had open ears and were curious to hear how Pepperdine could do better. Rich Little, preaching minister at the University Church of Christ, asked how it has been at Pepperdine for those of us who identify as Christian and gay. We discussed the misunderstandings that have arisen, and that it is not a simple matter, but spoke of the importance of open dialogue and a desire to be shown Christ's love despite differences in opinion. Being able to share our stories and experiences with open-hearted individuals is an essential part of healthy communication.
In all honesty, I must say that I am honored, blessed and privileged to write this article and to have it published. My peers at Harding and Baylor universities, and other private Christian institutions, are not as fortunate. It would be a shame to see Pepperdine take such negative steps. The negative steps against the gay communities at these schools include forbidding an SIF (Sexual Identity Forum) group at Baylor where students would be able to have dialogue on issues such as suicide, homophobia and political issues. Harding additionally instituted a school-wide block of sites created by LGBT students to express their experiences with the current negative environment, such as huqueerpress.com's "The State of the Gay at Harding University."
Currently, an LGBT group at Pepperdine is not allowed, but it is the hope of Reach OUT (Pepperdine's unofficial LGBT group) that some type of forum might be allowed with oversight and involvement from members of the administration, such as the chaplain's office. After all, allowing such a club would not be much different than approving clubs such as the Judaic Cultural Awareness Club or Catholic Student Association, which both sway from traditional Church of Christ beliefs. Reach OUT also hopes that "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" be included in Pepperdine's non-discrimination policy.
For this article, I asked a few campus leaders for their thoughts on the matter. The following excerpts came from Davis.
"More than anything we need the kind of love modeled by Jesus. If Jesus returned to campus, I think He would start by sitting down with those who feel marginalized in our community. He would listen carefully to them, and as He heard stories of pain and rejection, He would no doubt empathize with tears of compassion. And He would speak out against hateful slurs, bullying or harassment. He would want everyone to understand that all are created in the image of His Father and should be treated as brothers and sisters. As a master teacher, He would insist that we learn more about this topic, especially because our ignorance has led to unnecessary hurt and exclusion."
Regarding obedience to God's will and alluding to the automobile owner's manual analogy used by both C.S. Lewis and George Pepperdine to illustrate God's instruction for our lives, Davis said, "When it comes to sexual behavior, the traditional interpretation of the Owner's manual is that God has reserved sex for the safety of a married relationship between a man and woman. Pepperdine's statement in the Student Handbook on sexual relationships affirms this position, and those who support this traditional interpretation are trying to be faithful to their understanding of God's will in hopes that it will lead to fulfilling lives that honor God. At the same time, I know that not everyone interprets the Owner's manual the same way. So we must respect other members of our community, including sincere Christians, who reach different conclusions on God's design for sexual relationships. And as an academic institution related to a Christian unity movement that is based on going back to the Bible, we need to spend more time studying the primary sources together. Sitting at the table together in study and fellowship will help us hone both our convictions and our civility."
Civility is of utmost importance and communication is crucial to the understanding of those unfamiliar with LGBT issues. Based on personal experience with family members and friends, it has been clear that honest and open communication is a good predictor of strong relationships. If you have questions or haven't formed an opinion on this issue that may be affecting you or one of your close friends, talk with someone. Pray for guidance and seek out trusted mentors while making an effort to seek resources from both sides to gain an educated opinion.
Mark Davis said, "My hope is that Pepperdine is increasingly known for reflecting the love of Christ, where we insist that everyone is treated as a brother or sister, and where love compels us to sit down with each other to explore our differences and to celebrate our common goals as we work together to build a stronger community." I wholeheartedly agree with this statement. This University is wonderful because of the community present within and it is my desire that someday this issue will become less of a divisive topic at Pepperdine and throughout the world. Let love win out.